In a world where differences often divide us, Hesston College students are working for change one conversation at a time.
One of those conversations took place Friday, Dec. 1, at Wichita State University when both Christian and Muslim students sat in a circle and shared what faith meant to them.
A project for the Jesus and the Gospels class, students Sadie Winter, Elizabeth Miller and David Ladwig reached out to the Muslim Student Association at Wichita State University in hopes of encouraging interfaith dialogue in the form of “candid conversation.”
“We think that interfaith conversation is important because there are a lot of stereotypes of Muslims just because we don’t try or care to get to know each other,” sophomore Elizabeth Miller said. “Interfaith conversation could, in a small way, create better relations and open up the door for interactions with Muslims as well as other religions.”
In this assignment, Michele Hershberger incorporated the book by Shane Claiborne and Chris Maw, titled, “Jesus for President.” The book depicts a Jesus who isn’t passive, but instead takes action. Hershberger hoped to challenge her students to do just that.
“My students were to plan a creative action, inspired by the gospels, where the teachings of Jesus gets lived out with our whole beings,” Hershberger said.
Winter, Miller and Ladwig envisioned a project that would incorporate conversations with students of different faiths.
This vision took shape as both Muslim and Christian students shared stories about their faith, confessed challenges on this journey and asked questions of each other.
What is Ramadan? What takes place over the Lenten season? Why do you wear a hijab?
All questions were open for discussion in this safe place. Nothing was out of bounds.
“The reason for this action is we aren’t just academically learning, but also taking action on something intentional,” Miller said.
And they soon found many connections between traditions such as the Christian holiday of Lent and the Islamic holiday of Ramadan. Both involve fasting as a way of showing dedication and sacrifice towards God.
“We come from different worlds, but are pretty similar in our faith,” said president of the Muslim Student Association Amena Elamin. And that’s the goal of the association at the university.
“We aim to advance Muslims on campus both socially and spiritually by providing services that emphasize the establishment of brotherhood and sisterhood,” the association said in a statement.
What does that brotherhood and sisterhood look like when two religions come together? Interfaith dialogue, said member of the Muslim Student Association Taben Azad.
He recalls the controversy that took place at WSU in 2015 when the campus’ Grace Chapel removed pews so as to accommodate all religions. Some responded with anger. Some responded with support.
But the Christians that advocated for worship for all religions, those are the Christians Azad thinks of when he hears the word, “Christian.”
Both the Christian and Muslim students hoped to continue creating space to voice differences and relate over similarities.
“I saw a tiny glimpse of what Jesus did when he walked on earth, a tiny glimpse of what is needed today to bring peace on earth,” Hershberger said. “I saw young adults with different views listening to each other and also, bravely, sharing their stories of faith. We practiced speaking the truth in love, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.”
If Jesus were president, what would it look like?
For 26 students, it looked like sharing what faith means and realizing that we are all still learning.
“Your faith is a journey at the end of the day,” Elamin said. “And we are on that journey together.”